US – Yes, I’m Reading Your Metadata – Strangely, This Does Not Make Me The Stasi – 19 October 2013

http://blogs.fas.org/secrecy/author/saftergood/

Two months ago, I posted some information about how a blog maintained by Steven Aftergood, an “anti-secrecy activist” with the Federation of American Scientists (which hosts the blog) has a metadata counter that can show Mr. Aftergood and the FAS from where people are reading their blog.

The address for the blog is posted above – and you will note that, in the two months since I first posted about this, no one has made any effort to take down the counter. It’s the map on the right side of the screen under the heading “Recent Visitors”. The blue points are locations from which people have read the blog. If there are any flashing points, those are locations at which people are reading the blog right now.

I didn’t get the impression people understood the importance of this point I was making, so I am returning to it – but I’m trying a new tactic. I have now, myself, placed the metadata counter on my own blog. It has been in place for the past few days now.

You can see the counter on the right side of the top page of the blog, also in the form of a map. The little white points on the map indicate locations from which people are reading my blog.

Because I have installed this service, I can now find out in what cities people are reading what I write. Here are the places people have been reading me this weekend:

* New Jersey – Princeton, Fords
* California – Palo Alto, Menlo Park, El Cajon
* Texas – San Antonio, Rockport
* Pennsylvania – York, Philadelphia
* Arkansas – Jonesboro

* Quebec – Gatineau (all me, I presume)
* British Columbia – Vancouver

* Minas Gerais, Brazil

* City of London, United Kingdom

* Gorj, Romania

I suspect that at least of a few of you will think I’m some liberty-hating bastard for publicly publishing this list. After all, those people – those poor people in the privacy of their _own homes or offices_, or using their _personal laptops_ – were reading articles on my blog and now I’m outing them like this. Horrors! Those familiar with my insistence on criticising Fourth Amendment Fundamentalists and liberaltarian ideologues will most certainly want to pile on the criticisms, I imagine. Isn’t this proof I don’t understand that people have a right to privacy?!

But the thing is, if I have the power to access this information, so does the “Secrecy News” website of Steven Aftergood, and so does the “RevolverMaps” service that provides this metadata information.

When the first Snowden accusations about the use of cell-phone metadata came out, I felt flabbergasted that people were actually upset about the government having access to this kind of information. Cell-phone metadata is just like the kind of internet metadata this map application uses – it identifies where the “caller” is “calling” from.

Those the most demonstrative in their hostility to the idea that the government might have access to such data were not particularly moderate in their statement of that hostility, and deliberately compared the US to the worst civil-liberties-violating countries in Earth’s history to make their contrived point. The most galling comparison I saw made was to East Germany’s Stasi, clearly an institution of one of the most developed “security states” there has ever been.

Okay, well, now I am a user of metadata. My open question to those who purvey that metaphor…are you saying I’m just like a member of the Stasi? For using a web counter? Really?

And if you really are saying that, will you say it to Steven Aftergood? Or are you okay with a leading defender of “secrecy” behaving like the “Stasi” (since that’s what we apparently think using a web counter is)?

Granted, all my web counter tells me is from what cities or small regions people are reading me. The RevolverMaps service limits my geographic resolution to a 40 km x 40 km area. So I don’t know _exactly_ where my readers are reading me from.

But, of course, RevolverMaps could find that out if they wanted to do so. And the arguments we always hear from our liberaltarian crusaders is that just having the information is a constant temptation to use it, right? So I assume you will want to have RevolverMaps prosecuted.

Maybe some of you are now convinced you should do just that, just to be internally consistent. But, of course, there are numerous other businesses that have this kind of metadata at their disposal – and I have made the point numerous times hereabouts that one group of them, obviously, is the cell-phone companies from whom the US government gets the metadata in the first place. If you don’t trust the US government with that kind of information, why do you trust Verizon or AT & T?

Anyway, just to let you know, the web counter is a permanent feature of my blog. It’s meant as an extended middle finger to liberaltarian nonsense. I know what you’re up to, I know that your “civil liberties concerns” are just an attempt to derail Obama’s reforms, and I’m having nothing to do with it.

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2 Responses to US – Yes, I’m Reading Your Metadata – Strangely, This Does Not Make Me The Stasi – 19 October 2013

  1. David says:

    I realised that I wasn’t seeing any RevolverMaps because the EasyList filter rules of Ad Block protects me.

    Which raises the age-old (well, internet-old) dilemma of blocking everything or blocking nothing – or in policy terms – trusting everyone or trusting no one. The problem being the extremely poor levers we have in backsliding democracies to trust some but not others and for some purposes and not others. Trusting no one is a crutch, but an unavoidable crutch unless and until proof that democratic civilian oversight of what breeds in the darkness exists and is effective.

  2. Well, I have no problem with that qualification – I think, basically, that President Obama can do a lot to demonstrate that oversight exists and is effective. Indeed, that’s the challenge before him. Probably the extreme Left and the “liberaltarians” will eat him for breakfast if he can’t demonstrate this, so the time has come for him to do just that.

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